After considering Henry Fonda, director Sergio Leone offered the role of the Man With No Name to James Coburn, who proved to be too expensive. Charles Bronson then turned it down after describing it as the "worst script I have ever seen". Third choice Richard Harrison also declined the role but pointed Leone in the direction of Rawhide (1959). Leone then offered the part to "Rawhide" star Eric Fleming, who turned it down but suggested his co-star Clint Eastwood for the part. The rest, as they say, is history.
Clint Eastwood helped in creating his character's distinctive visual style. He bought the black jeans from a sport shop on Hollywood Boulevard, the hat came from a Santa Monica wardrobe firm and the trademark black cigars came from a Beverly Hills store. Eastwood himself cut the cigars into three pieces to make them shorter. Eastwood himself is a non-smoker.
When Clint Eastwood arrived on the set, he was struck by how little the Italian crew and writers knew about the American West they were filming about. For example, he had to point out that coonskin caps were worn by frontiersmen and trappers in the Davy Crockett era, circa the 1820s, not by gunfighters and townsmen in the American West and Mexico of the 1870s, as the scriptwriters had written.
Prior to this picture, in American films, whenever a person was shot, one camera was focused on the shooter, who fired his weapon, and a split second later, the director quickly cut to the victim who could be seen being hit and falling to the ground or whatever. Clint Eastwood knew this had always been the way such scenes were shot in the States, but didn't bother to tell Sergio Leone. Leone shot the first scene involving any kind of major violence in this picture, with the camera shooting from over Eastwood's shoulder, as though the viewer was right there watching.
A remake of Yojimbo (1961), which itself was based on the as yet unadapted 1929 novel "Red Harvest" by Dashiell Hammett. In fact, the film's US release was delayed when "Yojimbo" screenwriters Akira Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima sued the filmmakers for breach of copyright. Kurosawa and Kikushima won, and as a result received 15% of the film's worldwide gross and exclusive distribution rights for Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Kurosawa said later he made more money off of this project than he did on Yojimbo (1961).
Originally called "The Magnificent Stranger", the title wasn't changed to "A Fistful of Dollars" until almost three days before the movie premiered in theaters. In fact, nobody had bothered to inform its main star, Clint Eastwood, of the change, and as a result Eastwood remained virtually unaware of the positive buzz surrounding the movie until an agent pointed it out to him in a Variety Magazine article three weeks later.
This has been described as the first "spaghetti western", but when this film was made, there had already been about 25 such westerns produced in Italy. This was, however, the first to receive a major international release.
Because this was an Italian/West German/Spanish co-production, there was a significant language barrier on the set. Clint Eastwood communicated with Sergio Leone and the Italian crew mostly through stuntman Benito Stefanelli, who also acted as an unofficial interpreter for the production.
Clint Eastwood's contract for Rawhide (1959) prohibited him from making movies in the United States while on break from the series. However, the contract did allow him to accept movie assignments in Europe.
According to "Once Upon a Time in the Italian West" by Howard Hughes, Sergio Leone spotted a tree, while on location, that he thought would be perfect for the hanging tree at the beginning of the film, so the tree was dug up and relocated.
This was the first time that Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone worked together. Initially Leone was not keen on using Morricone for this film. Lacerenza's initial trumpet performance of the score made Leone quickly set aside any reservations. Leone and Morricone, who had known each other since 3rd grade, would develop a close working relationship that would last through all of Leone's future films.
When the film made its U.S. network television debut on "The ABC Sunday Night Movie" in February 1975, a new prologue was added in which an unidentified lawman or politician (played by Harry Dean Stanton) orders "Joe" to get rid of the gangs of San Miguel in return for a pardon. Neither Eastwood nor Leone were involved in the shooting of this additional footage. A double with his face hidden and stock footage of Eastwood were used. Monte Hellman directed the new footage. This prologue is now available on the Special Edition released in 2005.
Gian Maria Volontè reportedly did not get along with Sergio Leone, who found Volonté's theatrical acting style and arrogant on-set manner tiresome. Volonté tried to become friendly with Clint Eastwood, but the language barrier and political differences (Eastwood was a conservative Republican, while Volonté was a committed leftist) prevented their striking up a rapport.
Clint Eastwood recalled, "I've never been to Italy. I've never been to Spain. I've never been to Germany. I've never been to any of the countries (coproducing) this film. The worst I can come out of this is a nice little trip. I'll go over there and learn some stuff. I'll see how other people make films in other countries."
At first, Clint Eastwood had some major disagreements with Sergio Leone, particularly over the script which he found too verbose, but after convincing the director to cut his dialogue to a minimum, the two men began to collaborate more productively.
The theme song was originally composed by Ennio Morricone as a lullaby. Sergio Leone insisted that he wanted the "deguello" trumpet dirge - played by Mexican troops before a battle to signify to the enemy that there will be no quarter given - that was used in Rio Bravo (1959), believing it was a "public domain" piece. Finally, he settled for a "Mexican trumpet" arrangement of the original Morricone piece.
Clint Eastwood's involvement in the film was purely a stroke of luck. He was bored with his role as Rowdy Yates on Rawhide (1959), and was looking for other acting opportunities. When his agent informed him that a film company in Italy was interested in him he dismissed it at first but then reconsidered.
The film was at first intended by Sergio Leone to reinvent the western genre in Italy. In his opinion, the American westerns of the mid- to late-1950s had become stagnant, overly preachy and not believable. Despite the fact that even Hollywood began to gear down production of such films, Leone knew that there was still a significant market in Europe for westerns. He observed that Italian audiences laughed at the stock conventions of both American westerns and the pastiche work of Italian directors working behind pseudonyms. His approach was to take the grammar of Italian film and to transpose it into a western setting.
There were times when the production was almost shut down due to cash shortages but Sergio Leone prevailed, shooting multiple takes on each camera setup in case the Italian film labs damaged the footage and improvising when necessary.
For the Italian version of the film, Clint Eastwood was dubbed by stage and screen actor Enrico Maria Salerno, whose 'sinister' rendition of the Man With No Name's voice contrasted with Eastwood's cocksure and darkly humorous interpretation.
Marianne Koch was a huge star in her native Germany so it was somewhat of a surprise when she agreed to appear in the film in what is essentially a non-speaking role. (She has one line of dialogue in the film.)
Gian Maria Volontè didn't speak English at all so was dubbed in this film. However, he was contractually obligated to speak English for the sequel, For a Few Dollars More (1965), so he had to learn the language specially.
The firearm used by Ramón in is a Winchester Model 94. It has the serial number of: 2826062 1383, in .30-30 Winchester caliber, using a .30-30 Winchester. blank ammunition Courtesy, Giovanni Corridori, as revealed at the Sergio Leone exhibit, Summer, 2005, at the Gene Autry Museum, Los Angeles, California.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Mario Brega appears in all 3 of the Dollars Trilogy movies, and in all 3 movies, his character meets an unfortunate demise. In this movie, his character of Chico is crushed by a runaway large barrel pushed by Joe (Clint Eastwood). This is the only movie in the Dollars Trilogy where Eastwood's character was directly involved with Brega's character's demise.
The scene where Joe faces off with Ramon using the boiler plate as a bulletproof vest was recreated by Marty McFly in Back to the Future III (1990) his showdown with "Mad Dog" Tannen near the end of the film